If you liked Zuiyo Kumamon Cup, you will definitely like Daruma Cup! Hailing from Oita prefecture, also in Kyushu (in fact, next door neighbors to Kumamoto) this one-cup is also a delicious representation of Southern-style sake: richer, bolder, a little bit sweeter, but not necessarily fruity. A soft note of brown sugar, yellow apple, ripe anjou pear, and a nice full texture, just a tad drier than Kumamon one-cup.
There isn't quite as much backstory on this sake as there is on Kumamon, but it's worth mentioning first the tradition of daruma, and also a very interesting (but hard to find) segment of the Nishinoseki website which features a series of letters, a sort of autobiography, written by the (late) 4th company president, Suma Kayashima. The brewery website also goes into some detail the history, features, and unique character of the Kunasaki Peninsula in Oita where the sake is made, which is interesting; of note is the fact that this peninsula was a locus of Shinto and Buddhist practice in the Nara period, and in their peaceful coexistence, the religions began to synchronize in this very spot.
Regarding daruma, who decorate the cup: I feel I should clarify first that I didn't grow up with them, so I'm writing from the perspective of an observer. But these are ubiquitous sorts of lucky talisman, usually papier mache, in a roundish shape and painted to resemble the Bodhidharma who brought Zen Buddhism to China. Daruma dolls are popular in Japan and are used to make wishes/set goals and see them realized over the course of a year. When you receive a daruma doll, its eyes are white and blank. When you choose a goal or a wish, you color in the left eye. The doll then serves as a reminder, motivator and a symbol of perseverance to accomplish your goal. When the goal is accomplished, you color in the right eye and the Daruma can see again. So with this one-cup, we see an adorable assortment of daruma dancing around in all shapes and sizes. It's a cheerful emblem of good luck and the rewards of persistence.
The Nishinoseki president letters start here and continue for 20-something short volumes, each telling a story of his past, the brewery, or the brewery's products. It's an incredibly unique feature of this brewery website...an unusually intimate and honest look into the little things, like how he used to participate in small local art competitions, the lessons he learned from a bike ride, how they recovered after the war and 10 years of accumulated debt, and the little experiment that was local kiwifruit wine. By the end of the letters, I really liked this guy and had a deep respect for the brewery and all he accomplished in the post-war years. If you're curious at all, or bored drinking a Daruma cup, check it out.
"Although our sake brewery is small, we can't be effective unless we are well organized. Sake cannot be made alone. You can't make good sake unless you keep everyone happy, motivated and cooperating with each other. If employees are not proud of the company, they will have little purpose in life. So I have been trying hard to be a company that I can be proud of even if it is small. It is not a company that is listed as the first choice for employment like a large company, but I hope that our employees here-- who are the core of the future and excellent people-- will be nurtured."
What a stand-up dude.
Daruma cup: yes!